17th century crucifix unearthed in Ferryland

Published on July 10, 2014

Archaeologists at the Colony of Avalon site in Ferryland have unearthed an artifact that they say dates to the time of George Calvert’s dream of religious freedom in British North America.

The Colony of Avalon Foundation said in a news release the rare finding is a small copper crucifix, 2.8 cm in width, broken at the top but showing a simple representation of Christ on the front and the Virgin Mary and Christ Child on the back.

The artifact will be on display at the Colony of Avalon’s Interpretation Centre, starting July 16.

Archaeologist Dr. Barry Gaulton, field director of the Colony of Avalon and associate professor of archaeology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, said, “As far as artifacts go, this particular object is quite exceptional. The Catholic iconography is unmistakable. As with all archaeological discoveries, the context in which the artifact was found tells us its story.”

The Colony of Avalon said the crucifix was among a collection of ceramics, bones, nails and building debris associated with the construction of a large stone house built for Sir George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, in Ferryland.

The construction of the home started sometime after 1623 and was completed before the arrival of Calvert, most of his family and about 40 additional settlers in 1628.

The crucifix was once owned by a Catholic colonist at Avalon and served as a personal devotional item or as part of a rosary.  

The news release says in England, Catholics would be fined, imprisoned, or executed for openly practicing their religious beliefs, but George Calvert had a different vision for his New World colony at Ferryland. It was to be a place where all Christians would enjoy freedom of religion without fear of persecution. These forward-thinking ideas made Calvert’s Newfoundland colony the birthplace of religious toleration in British North America.

The crucifix might have belonged to one of the craftsmen working on Calvert’s house, or the colony’s second governor, the Catholic gentleman Sir Arthur Aston, or even George Calvert himself.

Its discovery was an unforgettable experience for Memorial University undergraduate student Anna Sparrow, who unearthed the crucifix on July 4. “There is so much time, effort and patience involved in excavation, that to find something with such historical significance is incredible,” Sparrow said.

The crucifix is currently being cleaned and conserved by Memorial’s archaeological conservator Donna Teasdale. “The smooth, almost polished, surfaces on the crucifix lead me to believe that it was definitely part of a rosary. It was rubbed repeatedly over a period of time,” said Teasdale.

The Colony of Avalon is a heritage site of international significance. The first permanent settlement at Ferryland was founded on behalf of Lord Baltimore in 1621. He named the colony Avalon. In 1638 war hero Sir David Kirke, his wife Lady Sara Kirke and their family took up residence in Calvert’s “mansion house”. The earlier settlement then became the home of the Kirkes’ “Pool Plantation.”

For more information about the Colony of Avalon, and updates on discoveries, you can visit www.colonyofavalon.ca, www.facebook.com/ColonyOfAvalon or follow @ColonyofAvalon on Twitter.